Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017*

I'm sorry that I'm giving you such a title, but that I don't have pictures for you, just as a forewarning, I might have them next week as I gather some from other people. I was really touched mom by what you wrote about Grandma and the days leading to her passing, as well as the days following.  I'm glad that things seemed to go very smoothly, and that it was a very spiritual and family filled moment.  I miss her very much, as I'm sure you do, but I'm glad that her passing went well.  

In other news, this week absolutely flew by.  It was so much fun, and so busy.  On Monday we met with an American guy who has lived in Russia since about 6 months before the fall of the Soviet Union, and that was really fun.  He's a good man, who served a mission and has a strong testimony, but has stopped doing some of the basics.  He invited his friend over to participate in one a discussion, and it went really well.  We also got to give a very spirit filled blessing to Scott's (the American) mom, who is a wonderful lady who has stage 4 kidney failure and said she's somehow just plugging along.  She reminded me a lot of Grandma about 7 years ago or so, or whenever she had recovered from her first stroke, but before the second one.  

We also got to represent the church with stake leaders and President and Sister Childs this week at a memorial for the end of the Siege of Ленинград which was a very special experience.  We got to learn more about just the suffering these people experienced during 3 years of being completely shut off by the Nazis.  There was one way that they were able to get supplies, but it was very limited and it was done by driving trucks across in the dead of winter when the lakes had frozen over into a part of Finland not under Nazi control in order to get supplies.  The truck drivers would drive with the truck doors open just so that if the ice started to crack, they could jump on out and have a chance of surviving.  We carried a big bouquet of flowers through the cemetery, and there were all these huge mass graves from the time, and it was just sorted out by year.  It was a very touching experience.  

I also got to go back to Новгород this weekend!  We went with President Childs, and I absolutely love that city and being around the Childs.  Just getting to ask them questions and hear about their experiences.  I asked a question on the ride down about really pondering the scriptures and how they've tried to really think about things deeply and check for their own understanding, and really think about what they're reading, because sometimes I feel that I'm just surface level thinking about things.  Anyway, President Childs told us about a time where he really wanted to understand Isaiah better, and so he would write a 5 sentence synopsis of every chapter, and what it was actually about, and he said he had to do a lot of thinking in order to put it in his own words and have it really make sense, as well as a lot of background study.  It also just worked out that the family from the little city a few hours away was up visiting for that weekend, and so I got to see the 10 kids, as well as translate, say hello to денис for whose baptism I was serving in новгород.  It just reminded me how hard it will be to say goodbye, I love the people here in Russia, and don't ever want to say goodbye.  That's why I like the Russian saying, "Мы не будем прощаться, мы скажем до свидания."  It means "We won't say farewell, we'll say until we meet."  Anyway, it was such a tender mercy, and oh so fun.  I got to meet with my investigator саша who's doing really well, and translate for President Child's talk, everyone was shocked at my Russian speaking now, I guess that's what happens when you serve in a place for your second area and you come back almost 8 months later.  

Anyway, I love you all, sorry that it was a bit of a travelogue this week.  To wrap things up I'll send you a verse that I really liked from my scripture study.  It's Matthew 10:42 and it reads:

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

I was thinking about that verse a lot, and for me it meant that whosoever will serve those in the name of Christ, not for his own lot or sake, will in no wise lose the reward of eternal life.  I know that as we try to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, that we are blessed and happy, knowing that we are doing the will of God.  I've experienced that feeling many a time, and it always brings me great peace.  I love you all so very much!

Have a great week!

Elder Belnap

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017*

I'm really sad to hear about Grandma, I'll miss her so very much, as will we all.  She was just such a light and I loved spending time with her, and hearing her little quips that would occasionally, and very sometimes very suddenly come out of her mouth.  Give Grandpa a big hug from me.  When will the services be held?  

Well, it's official, I've been out of Kaliningrad for a couple of days, and an assistant for eternity already (at least it seems that way).  I miss Kaliningrad very much, I knew everyone there really well, and it felt like I was just part of the ward family in that ward, I would talk to people often about how things were going and we'd talk about how their life was going, and I just had lots of opportunities to help strengthen very active members of the church, encourage them to read the scriptures and pray more often, just in the flow of normal conversations about life with them.  I miss that close relationship that I had with all those wonderful people, all of which I love very much.  All that being said, the congregation in which we serve is awesome.  And my companion is awesome.  And President Childs is so spiritual (and awesome).  There was a devotional talk where a man warned against using the word awesome too much, so I think I'll stop there.  

Anyway, we've just been so very busy.  We have a lot of mission functioning things, as well as we have a lot coming up.  3 straight days of Zone Conferences in a week and a half, I'm excited for the 3 free meals that that entails, but I'm sure I'll be wiped out my the end of the 3rd, 8 hour conference, please pray that we can keep our energy up and going strong.  We also have another meeting this Wednesday with the leaders in the mission, our weekly meeting with President this Tuesday, a broadcast for missionaries/volunteers throughout the whole world on Thursday.  We've also been getting a couple of referrals from the people in the ward, meeting with people, and there are just so many people that are excited about the work.  We have our meetings essentially lined up for this week and are already looking at how we'll fit in all the meetings that we want to have this coming week.  

This week I've been thinking a little bit about the Lord's timing.  That he not only has a plan for us, but a timing for every plan.  I've seen that coming in here.  We've had several miracles, one of which was the Moscow Mission President requesting us to start working with an American living here in St. Petersburg.  Well, not only do I know the aforementioned American from earlier on in my mission, but he has a son that I knew at the Christian school in Moscow, and he's good friends with the McNelley's, one of my friends from Moscow.  I gave him a call, he was super excited to hear from me, and we're going to visit him today!  Just a little taste for how things have been falling into place for us at this time.  

Anyway, the Lord has a timing for all of us.  Read the first 9 verses of Ecclesiastes 3 to see that. The Lord truly does know what we need and when, and he's always trying to do what is best for us, and what will enable our growth.  I love the opportunity that I have to serve people here in St. Petersburg and so doing serve God. (Mosiah 2:17).  I've seen that in our mission as we became volunteers, and to now where a lot of restrictions have been lifted and we're able to go about teaching almost as before, but just better than before.  The Lord wanted us to learn something from those 6 months, and now we are better off for it.  Please, be willing to accept God's will AND timing in your lives, you'll be happy and at peace knowing that he has our absolute best interests in mind.  

I love you all and I thank you for your support and love.  Have a great week!  

Love, Elder Belnap


image 5:  I got caught making a face, and here's the beauty that came from it.  The watch you see there got stolen about a week after that :(.  

image 2:  So we had a family home evening at the lady who is on the far left.  Her husband is a former branch president, currently doesn't come to church, but we worked with him and I have a good relationship with him.  Anyway, usually you're supposed to take pictures with your companion, but my companion jumped up and took a picture before I could even react.  He thought it was really funny.  In any event, the picture turned out great so I have to send it.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16, 2017*

Well, all the details have finally come together, and I can finally fill you in on everything that President Childs was hinting at me last week.  So, really looooooooong story short, last week President Childs gave me a call to start discussing his coming trip to Kaliningrad.  He was planning on rearranging the branch presidency and told me to keep it quiet, but that he was planning on pulling me out of Kaliningrad.  When I translated for an interview on Tuesday with the now previous branch president, he confirmed that I was being pulled out of Kaliningrad, but I still didn't know where to!  

Well, I found out a couple of days ago, finally.  The biggest shock to date on my mission, President asked me to be one of his assistants.  I was literally silent for a couple of seconds and then said "what."  He and Sister Childs thought it was really funny and said it was there favorite reaction thus far on their mission, I was just so shocked by it.  So that means traveling, working on transfers, translating, and LOTS of trainings.  I'm really excited and really humbled by the new opportunity to serve the mission and work with President Childs.  Right after we got transfer calls President Childs and Sister Childs came to Kaliningrad for the branch presidency change. Which means that this last weekend I got to translate for about 7 hours on Saturday and for a little bit on Sunday (send help please, I could barely keep my eyes open Saturday while translating the last meeting), but it was incredible.  Just getting to be around President Childs has been such an honor, and I'm humbled by the opportunity to learn from him more as we work to plan trainings and make the correct transfers. 

I will miss this little ward so much!  I've grown a lot, I've seen them grow, I've cried with them and for them, and I just want them to learn how to forgive.  There like a family that's been in a minivan for 11 hours and no one has a row to themselves, they've known each other for 20+ years and there have been several problems that have cropped up over the years.  I've learned many many wonderful things from the people here, one of which is the power of fasting and prayer, I've never met stronger people in that respect.  But, I've also seen how holding grudges and witholding forgiveness does more damage to those witholding the forgiveness than it does to those whom we think we are justified in spiting.  One of my favorite talks about this was the last talk that President James E. Faust gave in his life time here on Earth.  Here it is:

Forgiveness heals us and frees us of the burden of being angry and bitter towards other people. When we're able to rest assured that God will compensate us 1000 times over for any wrong done to us in this life, as long as we try our absolute best to do what he asks of us.  And he asks us to forgive ALL men.  I have a good friend serving a mission and I get his emails, and this last week he talked about the difference in the two statements "keep the commandments" and "follow His example."  As we try to follow the example of Christ, and not just do things that we're supposed to do for the checkmark, we can find true peace and joy in this life, knowing that everything will be taken care of in a time that is pleasing to God.  Forgiveness allows healing to take place, it takes some swallowing of pride, and it might be a little painful too, but it allows true healing to take place.  Grudges just dig deeper and deeper until we are more unhappy than those who did us wrong in the first place.  

I love the opportunity to serve on a mission and I'm so grateful for all your support.  I apologize to all the friends and family members who get these disjointed thoughts of mine that make perfect sense to me, but probably look way different without all the thoughts in my mind as a template for reading them.  I love you all and I'm excited for what these last 6 months have in store.  I'll talk to you soon!


Elder Belnap

Monday, January 9, 2017

January 9, 2017*

Dear Family and Friends, 

First off, happy birthday to Grandma!  I miss her very much and pass on my love to her.  I love the conversation that you were able to have with her mom.  Skiing also sounds really fun with Spencer and Nathan, I loved the pictures, it looked so picturesque.  Also, unlike the missing the plane, I didn't sleep through the alarm, I just set it for the wrong time.  I've actually never been better in my life at getting up and moving in the mornings.  Yeah,  I'm still obviously not Russian, accent has always been the hardest for me, but I'm not obviously American either, people a lot of the times will think I'm from the Baltics. I'll take it.  And for the most part people are really surprised once they start having an actual conversation with me, because I'll have an accent but for the most part there aren't many mistakes so that catches them off guard.  Yes, comp inventory is a weekly thing, just with some companions they're not as good at opening up and there's not really a lot you can get them to do, but finally getting Elder Tribe to open up was really good and helpful.    

Well, what a week.  The sad thing, is that I don't have a lot to tell you until next week after President and Sister Childs come!  Last P-Day since everyone was on breaks, we went to an arcade/bowling alley with a lot of the youth which was so much fun, They're all so good and I'll pass on the pictures to you.  We also had a Young Men's activity playing basketball on Thursday and it was really good for all of them to come together, and my companion who's involved in the Young Men's program in our congregation, was able to really get to talk to them more, so that was fun.  Although, all the Elders learned how bad we have become at basketball.  On Tuesday we started our companion exchange with the other Elders and I got to be with Elder Ward for a day and some change.  That was really cool.  We were both able to see how much we've grown in the 6 months since we were companions and that was really cool for us to see.  We just felt so good that night, had a lesson, helped someone get stuck out of ice (Oh, we've finally had bad weather, but it's nothing compared to what's in the states, but the ice is crazy and the roads are really bad here to begin with).  Then the next day, we all met up again to give for a lesson and it turned into us having a lesson, while our respective companions (the exchange was still going) tried for about an hour to change filters that would not budge, and the member wanted me to help out, because I was strong and the others were weak (it was really funny especially when one of the Elder's started taking exception to that), but I had cut my pinky pretty bad that morning, and everytime I tried to open it, the wound would split open pretty bad and start bleeding, but she still wanted me to do it.  It was interesting.  We then went out to find several people that lived in that area of town, and we saw a lot of miracles, just talking to people and meeting these members that many have forgotten about, and everyone that we got in contact with was more than happy to see us.  It makes me think, of 3 Nephi 18:32 which reads:
32 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.

I love that verse!  And Elder Tribe had a cool experience when one of the people they stopped by said that "I know that you're just here to get my number because that's what you're supposed to do" and he was able to testify that it's more than that, that it's about helping people see the joy that comes into one's life when they use all the blessings that God has giving us, and repent in order to help them feel the same joy.  I'm not a perfect person, and I know I have a lot of improving to do, but I'm no longer stressed about by my imperfections, because a lot of them will be with me my whole life!  But, I know that as we all do our best, God can make up the difference and help us become whom we are incapable of becoming by our own strength.  I'll have a LOT to report next week, one of my favorite things about having the opportunity to serve is being 2nd counselor and counseling with President Childs about how we can strengthen people here and in what direction to move forward.  

Anyway, I love you all!

Have a great week!


Elder Belnap

A funny story not to share with everyone, but really funny:

Went to do дача service a couple weeks ago at a members, and we helped chop wood, and after she gave us food, and grape juice that she made from the grapes in her vineyard.  Anyway, she pours it all out, and Elder Babskov takes one sip and starts saying "Старейшины нельзя!" (Elders, not allowed)!  Anyway, turns out it was wine, and she thought that it was ok because of D&C 89 where it says " 6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make."  Anyway, we had a good laugh after we left with Elder Babskov, but it was just a crazy situation.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

January 2, 2017*

Желаю вам всех благ, красоты, и главное, здоровья!
(I wish you all blessings, beauty, and most important, health)!

Russians are all about the health.  Sister Бабскова has been sick this last week, and everyone in the ward has been running around making sure everything's ok.  Last week, or 2 weeks ago now, I can't remember exactly, I came to church on Sunday after not being able to eat for a couple of days, and everyone went into a frenzy.  One person told me that I need to cut up some garlic, boil it, drink the water after it's cooled down, and then eat the garlic.  Another said that I need to get some lemons, and drink some hot water with lemons, and then eat the lemons after.  Another said that I need to get some milk and honey, and then eat the lemons.  In the madness and chaos of it all, someone ran and got me lemons and the immediately went to work on treating me.  So that's why health is most important.

Anyway, this week has flown by and we had a couple of interesting experiences.  We've had some fun conversations with cool people, and the funniest one was probably a guy who was a little drunk with his family, striking up a conversation with me when he heard something say something to my companion in English, and we talked to his family a bit, and soon others on the bus were just enjoying listening to us and throwing in comments every now and again, and when it was our time to hop off, he like gave me a hug, but threw (literally threw) his head right into my chest, I was laughing about it pretty hard after.  Elder Tribe also had one where he was talking to a guy and didn't understand the word баня (think russian sauna) and the guy just REALLY wanted him to come with him to the баня on Monday, but my companion had no idea what that meant, anyway, I was on the other side of the bus and didn't hear anything, and after we got off, my companion just timidly asked "Hey, what does баня mean?" I told him, he busted up laughing and filled me in.  

We had a meeting and now have a new investigator!  Miracle!  He randomly came to the Christmas party because he "felt that he needed to come".  Anyway, he's very believing and wow, he knows the Bible so so well.  It was insane, and it's awesome just to learn from other people of different opinions and faiths, but also show him what our message consists of, and try to help him come to find out for himself of the truthfulness of our message.  Elder Бабсков was with us on the lesson and he's such a good wise man, it's so fun having him and his wife with us all the time.  

The New Years was fun, we set our alarms for 11:57 or so to get up, get pictures of the fireworks, and go back to sleep (because we have a really good view of the main square from our apartment), but my inner-American creeped in and I set the alarm for 11:57 and not 23:57 like I was supposed to.  Slept like a baby, whereas Elder Tribe kept getting up because of the fireworks literally right outside our window, we walked home super carefully that night, we were afraid we'd get hit by a stray firework, and we walked right by some guys who all of a sudden set one off and a whole bunch of car alarms went off.  When we got home, Elder Tribe said "THIS was the Russia I expected to come to."

Anyway, Sunday was really nice.  This week has been hard at times, Elder Tribe and I finally had the first open conversation of our companionship, he's obviously kept in feelings for some time, and he finally shared what was on his mind, and it was really humbling and helpful.  There were also some other things that were hard throughout the week, but Sunday was so nice.  There were some people home for the holidays, a lot of people didn't come, but in our church hall there was one empty side, and one where everyone was close packed and excited to spend the time together.  The testimonies were just so strong, and it was so inspiring to me to see this small group of faithful people all gathered to feel of the Spirit, partake of the sacrament, and support one another in our trials.  It makes me think of our baptismal convenants and Mosiah 18: 8-10 which read:

8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

 9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

 10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

I hope and pray that this New Year will being new perspective, goals that will help us grow and stretch, blessings, and greater understanding of the love that God has for us all (and health, of course).  I love you all and wish you a Happy New Year!


Elder Belnap

P.S. My companion was kept up ALL NIGHT by fireworks.  By the time morning came aroud he was pretty tired.  Service at the дача and a little swing that surprisingly held me, but unfortunately, sent me right into a tree.  Fireworks on the way home just in the courtyard of a building.  Putin calendar.  

P.P.S.  What do you mean mom my mission is going by slow?  I hit my 18 month mark yesterday, it's been flying by!  I think time might work differently for the two of us...